So-so Simon

Rated 3.0

Nice show, and well-acted. Just wish the script had more to say. That’s our bottom line on Chapter Two, the appealing (if not highly memorable) Neil Simon romantic comedy at Stage Nine Theatre in Folsom.

It’s been a while since Simon, who turns 80 this year, has had a hit, so we’ll remind readers that he wrote The Odd Couple for Broadway in 1965.

1977’s Chapter Two is autobiographical—reflecting Simon’s life after his first wife died and he married an actress (Marsha Mason, who also starred in the film based on this play).

The play gives us widower George Schneider, author of potboilers, mourning his mate. Brother Leo sets George up with actress Jennie Malone. And Jennie—just divorced—is being similarly pushed along by Faye Medwick.

George and Jennie say they don’t want a romantic relationship—with anyone. Do they immediately fall in love? Do they plunge into marriage too fast, leading to problems? Do the supporting characters sneak around, providing comic relief? Does the sun rise in the east? Is the ending pat? Yes—and we learn more about the quirky supporting characters than the leads. And the dialogue’s laden with dated ’70s psychobabble.

Fortunately, the cast, guided by director Ed Claudio, displays more spontaneity than the script. Michele Hillen—fresh from playing Desdemona in Othello—has a strong, tearful scene as a modern wife desperately trying to snap her wigged-out husband out of his self-absorbed spasms. Hillen and Martin Lain Noufer (George) thrive on funny repartee and one-liners. Mary Beth Barber has a playful gleam in her eye as matchmaker Faye, while Sean Morneau earns (and then dissipates) our sympathies as Leo, a good brother but a lousy husband.